For the past few years, I have considered Sir Ken Robinson my professional hero. I still remember the first time I saw his TED talk (the 2005 version): It just so happened that I was in a training about classroom differentiation and the need to engage students creative passions, which is an issue that he continues to provide his expertise on.
This past week, I had the privilege of seeing Sir Ken in person at the keynote for ISTE 2012. I really enjoyed his portion of the Keynote, Sir Ken is an excellent speaker! The only problem with the keynote was that he was part of a panel and did not have the floor to himself. His quote of the evening, in my opinion was: “Why is the individualized curriculum for the alternative students?”
That really resonated with me. As I started to read his book “Out of Our Minds,” that became apparent to me and helped me to look back and digest my teaching practice over the past few years.
I have always been a fan of Sir Ken Robinson (well since I first saw a recorded TED talk of his in 2009), as I was reading his book, I became more enthralled with the message and themes that he puts forward. His book is a fairly quick read (if you happen to have seen his talks). My inner educator was immediately captivated by the quote:
Some of the most successful people in the world did not do well at school. No matter how successful they have become, they often carry a secret worry that they are not as clever as they are making out… Many [people] succeeded only after they had recovered from their education. Of course, many people loved their time in education and have done well by it. What of those who didn’t? (pg. 8)
In my personal and professional life, I feel that I have had the privilege of meeting a good number of talented and passionate people. Most of those interactions have happened as a result of, or facilitated by our academic situations. One of the commonalities between these academically talented people is the amount of recovery that each one had to go through to survive after their education. They are “Recovering Academics.” Their talents need a chance to recover from the pain and negative pressures of their education. When I read the passage in Sir Ken’s book, I was taken aback by the number of people who have been harmed by education in some way or another.
No matter who you are, you have been effected by your education (no matter how much of it you received). In my experience, it is often those students who remove themselves from the academic environment who are the most hurt. In one of his TED talks, Sir Ken states that:
If we take a bird’s eye view of education, look at who is best served, we would conclude that the purpose of education is to create University Professors.
Since I have gotten a bit older, and have friends who are professors, I must agree with Sir Ken: being a University Professor is not something that everyone should aspire to. Our system is designed to promote those who are the most acclimatized to the pain that is inflicted by our education system. This cycle perpetuates itself with professors raising students who are more acclimatized to the pain and stigmas that they themselves impose. In every fiber of my being, I resonate with Sir Ken and his adamant and insistent plea to increase individualization and decrease standardization in our schools.
When I reflected on my own practice as a teacher, I realized that I have often ridiculed students for not “bucking down” and “focusing” on classically academic exercises (note-taking, discussions, activities, etc.). It is so easy as an educator to forget about the students that we are meant to serve. Every experience that I can recall was prefaced by a need to complete assignments and accelerate my class. I did not care that the students wanted to express themselves in another form, I needed them to complete the assignment as it was written. This is the curse that is haunting our education system, and only seems to increase as we increase standardization.
Over the course of my career, I have undoubtedly helped many students. What scares me is that by focusing too much on getting every student through the material, I may have stifled the creativity and passion of my students. That is something that I cannot forgive myself for.